The proposed East-West tunnel being built in Melbourne’s inner-north has been delayed again as residents prevented soil testing by staging rolling protest actions.
But the battle is likely to resume soon.
The East-West tunnel was originally proposed in 2008. After a community campaign, the former Labor state government dropped the proposal, but Premier Denis Napthine’s Coalition government revived the $8 billion plan in 2011.
The government says the tunnel and toll road need to be built to link the Eastern Freeway and Citylink to relieve traffic congestion from east to west travel. Protesters dispute this, saying that 80% of the traffic on the Eastern freeway turns to head into the CBD and the southern suburbs. Building the tunnel will simply shift the congestion, not reduce it.
Large sections of Royal Park and many homes will be bulldozed if the tunnel is built.
The government has kept the business details for the tunnel secret. It has also agreed to underwrite any losses on this massively expensive project.
Local residents and their supporters have been protesting daily at drilling sites in Clifton Hill, Collingwood, Fitzroy and Carlton since September 24.
The police erected fencing around drilling sites and forced protesters out of the way several times.
Seventy-year-old Keith Fitzgerald was pushed to the ground on October 7 by police at a protest in Station St, North Carlton. He suffered bruising to his ribs.
Two days later, protester Tony Murphy chained himself to a drilling rig.
After these events, work ceased and had not resumed by October 12.
The Murdoch-owned Herald Sun attacked the protests by vilifying some of its leaders. A front-page headline declared Socialist Party member Anthony Main a "serial pest", because of his involvement in protest activity.
This “red-baiting” — targeting socialists and other left-wing advocates — shows the government is worried that the protest might spark Melbourne-wide opposition to the tunnel.
However, television coverage of police violence towards 70-year-old Fitzgerald led to higher public sympathy for the protests.
The civil disobedience campaign to stop drilling at the final drill sites was initiated at a public meeting and a rally called by Socialist Party Yarra councillor Stephen Jolly. Further public meetings were organised by Yarra council. Greens MP Adam Bandt has also initiated rallies at the western end of the proposed route of the tunnel.
The campaign has drawn Melbourne-wide attention to the fight to stop the tunnel. As protests continue, more people are turning up to join.
Protesters say the state government should be building a train line to Doncaster instead of a tunnel to relieve traffic congestion.
State opposition leader Daniel Andrews said Labor is against the tunnel. However, Labor has said that if elected at next year’s state election, it will honour any contracts signed by the previous government.
Protesters are calling for the Labor opposition to commit to overturning any contracts to build the East-West tunnel if elected.
Seven local councils have now passed motions supporting a public transport alternative to the East-West tunnel – Yarra, Moreland, Bayside, Glen Eira, Darebin, Nillumbik and Moonee Valley. These councils represent 750,000 residents.
Socialist Alliance Moreland councillor Sue Bolton initiated a council-hosted public meeting to discuss the East-West tunnel. A Moreland Trains Not Tollroads campaign has also been set up.
Unions, on the other hand, have supported the project because it has provided new jobs. The state secretaries of the Electrical Trades Union and the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union told Fairfax Media the work was needed. The Australian Workers Union said if a contract was signed before the next state election the union would support it.
Protesters have set up a caravan on top of one of the proposed drilling sites at the corner of Brunswick and Westgarth streets, Fitzroy. The caravan is being staffed 24 hours a day. Supporters are encouraged to visit and volunteer to help the campaign.
[A rally will take place at the caravan, corner of Brunswick and Westgarth streets, Fitzroy, on October 13 at 11am. To receive alerts for picket locations text “tunnel” to 0432 447 036. Sign the “No East-West tunnel pledge” at change.org. For more information or to donate to the campaign, visit facebook.com/EastWestTunnelPledge.]